Great White Hope

I’ll have to admit I didn’t see this coming: an argument that Mitt Romney’s best strategy for mitigating his potentially disastrous losses among Hispanic voters this November is to choose as his running mate the ultimate boring white guy from Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman.

McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed makes the case:

As Mitt Romney’s campaign drags its feet with Hispanic outreach, many Republicans are hoping their nominee will improve his prospects among the nation’s fastest-growing voter demographic by adding a strategic running mate to the ticket.

But while pundits have pegged Marco Rubio as Romney’s best hope, the real solution may reside well north of Florida.

“Honest to God, the person that has the best credentials on Latino issues is [Ohio Senator] Rob Portman,” said one high-profile immigration advocate, requesting anonymity to avoid appearing to boost the Republican ticket. “If you look at his record in Congress, he was for comprehensive immigration reform. The truth is, he would have a lot of credibility.”

Portman’s record has remained remarkably pro-immigrant over the years even as his party has adopted an increasingly hard line on immigration. In the House, he voted against reporting illegal immigrants who receive hospital treatment, and in favor of granting more immigrant visas for skilled workers. In 2003, the Federation for American Immigration Reform gave Portman a 0 percent rating on the issue — placing him among the most ardent immigrant advocates in Congress. (Five years later, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz would receive the same rating.)

Turns out Portman can even speak Spanish, which means he can be boring in two languages.

But turns out even Portman has moved rhetorically to the right on immigration of late, and aside from the fact that he’s a conventional conservative (which means Mighty Right as well as Mighty White these days) on every other issue, his main advantage is that he’s not egregiously offensive to Hispanic voters:

Notably, Portman’s record has been much more conciliatory toward illegal immigrants than that of Rubio, who has fiercely opposed amnesty of any sort, and only recently began floating proposals to grant visas — not green cards — to undocumented soldiers and college students.

“I think Republicans are beginning to realize they can’t look to Rubio as a knight in shining armor,” said the immigration advocate. “If you look at his record, it’s just really bad… Romney can’t just look for a great brown hope, because there really isn’t one.”

And while Portman — still unknown by most people, including Hispanics — may not be a silver bullet either, Republican strategist Ana Navarro said in the modern GOP, he may be one Romney’s best options.

“He hasn’t been a visible leader for immigration reform like McCain was, but he also is not a known anti-immigrant,” Navarro said. “And that’s pretty good these days.”

Guess you go with what you’ve got.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.